As he stood before a packed auditorium in Newtown, Connecticut, Sunday President Obama channeled the grief of the parents assembled before him. The President vowed he would do what he could to prevent any further incidents like the one that took the lives of 20 children and seven adults on Friday.
“These tragedies must end,” he said. “If there’s even one step we can take to save one child, or one parent, or one town from grief…then surely we have an obligation to try.”
But even as a host of gun control advocates were heartened by his remarks, they insisted that the government’s actions must speak louder than words. Recent history, however, shows that the American public hasn’t been willing to embrace gun control, even in the face of mass shootings like the one in Newtown.
Shortly after the 1999 attack that killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine high school, the Pew Research Center found that 65% of Americans wanted more gun control—twice as many as said gun rights should be the priority. But since then, the trend has been towards protecting the rights of gun owners and away from cracking down on guns. Following the Virginia Tech massacre that left 32 victims dead in 2007, the number advocating for gun control was just 60%, nearly the same number as before the attack.
By the time Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot and six others murdered in 2011 at an Arizona supermarket, gun control advocates were in the minority— just 46%—and made up less of the population than they had four months before. The shooting that killed twelve at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater this past summer bumped the number of people calling for gun control to 47%, just two points higher than in the spring.
The president’s words on Sunday make it clear he’s ready to push for change in in gun control laws. It remains to be seen if the public is ready for that change too.